By Marty Farmer
It's never easy winning a West Suburban Conference Silver Division championship, let alone a state title in Class 8A high school football.
Fresh off an 8-3 season and with 12 returning starters, Lyons Township has the pieces in place to realistically make a run at both lofty goals.
Last year, Hinsdale Central won the conference title outright, with typical conference kingpin Glenbard West, always dangerous Oak Park and River Forest and the well-regarded Lions tying for second.
"One of the usual suspects will end up at the top of the conference," LTHS coach Kurt Weinberg said. "We have a lot of the pieces to the puzzle. It's really just a matter of fitting them together."
For what it's worth, the Lions host fellow 2016 conference runner-ups OPRF and Glenbard West at home.
If you're wondering about the field of teams in the Class 8A playoffs, it's even tougher.
Despite a challenging schedule, LTHS has cause for optimism due to a plethora of playmakers on both sides of the ball.
The talent starts with senior quarterback/three-year starter Ben Bryant. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound senior committed to Wisconsin initially but his scholarship was taken away after Byrant tweeted he received a scholarship offer from Georgia. Apparently, much to the chagrin of Bryant, that didn't sit well with the Badgers.
Ultimately, Bryant's recruitment had a happy ending with him committing to Cincinnati this summer.
With the recruiting drama behind him, Bryant appears poised for a stellar senior campaign. According to Rivals.com, Bryant is the top-rated quarterback and 13th best player overall in Illinois. In short, he's got talent galore.
Bryant's favorite target is senior wide receiver Brandon Fischer. Like Bryant, Fischer is a three-year varsity starter. Not surprisingly, he's also one of the best wideouts in conference.
Senior Nate Rusk is another viable option in the passing game. Led by seniors Kevin Skonning, Charlie O'Connor and Emmett Cushing, the Lions' offensive line should be terrific.
"We have four of our five big guys up front returning from last season," Weinberg said. "Most of the offense is underclassmen."
On the other side of the ball, LTHS graduated seven starters. Senior defensive linemen Mickey Brown and Andrew Ezell will anchor the unit. At 6-3, 310 pounds, Brown is a Division I prospect drawing recruiting interest from several colleges.
Aside from the pair of experienced senior linemen, Weinberg is looking for several younger players to fill spots to round out the defense. Junior cornerback Hareson Willis is a playmaker in the secondary.
Losing 20-17 to Palatine in the 8A playoffs last season remains in the minds of the LTHS players. Finishing second in conference provides additional motivation as well.
Look for the Lions to be in the thick of a heated conference race and a very dangerous team when the Class 8A playoffs begin.
-Eugene White contributed to this story